Red Alert

Archive for January, 2013

Where is our digital ambition?

Posted by on January 30th, 2013

Why aren’t we defining intellectual property as an integral part of our economy?

Our future prosperity will be carved out by backing the talent of businesses working in high tech. Kiwi businesses. A thriving manufacturing sector is at the heart of Labour’s vision. A weightless economy is integral to that.

The manufacturing inquiry is integral. So is getting our Patent laws right. Quantifying the strength of our Intellectual property sector might kick start us to realise our own worth.

Here is my speech tonight in the debate on the Prime Minister’s speech. The hands off, leave it to the market approach  of this government has failed all over the world. It’s clearly failing in New Zealand.

 

 

 


National gets more whipping

Posted by on January 28th, 2013

Just before Christmas the Remuneration Authority released their determination regarding MPs pay. Naturally, all of the media focus was on the fact that MPs were getting a pay rise just before Christmas and it was to be back-dated. Personally I agree with the idea that MPs pay and entitlements should be set on a 3 yearly basis and changes should only come into force following each election, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Hidden away in the determination was another interesting little change. Political parties with more than 45 MPs are now entitled to a second junior whip position. So with Michael Woodhouse taking on a ministerial role, and Louise Upston almost certain to step in the Chief Whip’s shoes tomorrow, National will now have to elect two new junior whips. The smart money seems to be on Tim McIndoe and my Breakfast TV sparring partner Jamie Lee-Ross.

I agree with the decision to increase the number of whips big parties can have. It’s a big job and under MMP it’s getting even bigger. But it’s interesting the National government decided to implement the change now, rather than wait until after the next election, when it wouldn’t look quite so much like they were changing the rules to suit their own interests.


Lockwood raises the bar, again

Posted by on January 22nd, 2013

At some stage over the next few weeks, possibly as early as next Thursday, parliament will elect a new Speaker. As an opposition MP I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but we’ll be sad to see Lockwood Smith go. As Speaker, he has raised the bar in terms of ministerial accountability in the House. His most significant ruling, that when asked a straight question ministers should give straight answers, has changed the whole nature of Question Time. That ruling will remain in place long after his departure, although whether the new Speaker has the ability to implement it with the same precision and diligence is yet to be seen.

Just before Christmas, Lockwood raised the bar again, this time relating to ministerial accountability outside the Debating Chamber. Under parliament’s rules MPs are also allowed to ask written questions of ministers. There are a lot more of these and they don’t always receive the same level of attention questions in the House do. But they’re a vital information channel for the opposition, and they’re another way we can hold ministers to account for their performance and the performance of their departments.

Late last year Labour asked a series of written questions about the Novopay fiasco. The Minister in charge Craig Foss tried to brush them off by saying they were ‘operational matters for the Chief Executive’. This reply has been used by successive governments to sidestep bad news. However, the days when Ministers could duck for cover in this way seem to be over. In replying to Labour’s complaint on the matter, Lockwood Smith ruled:

“I note that there is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters, but that a Minster is not prevented from replying in those terms. These rulings related to a minister being questioned on operational matters for which a crown entity had responsibility. I expect a higher standard for answering questions relating to a department for which the Minister is responsible. A minister should be able to give informative replies about the actions of such a department.”

“As you have noted, the record shows that the Associate Minister has provided the House with information on this matter in response to questions for oral answer. Ministers are no less accountable to give informative replies to questions for written answer.”

Craig Foss subsequently provided more fulsome answers to our Novopay questions. But the effect of this ruling will extend well beyond this one instance. If the new Speaker maintains this new high standard, the improved level of accountability we’ve seen at Question Time will extend beyond the walls of the Debating Chamber. That’s a good thing.

The new Speaker will have big shoes to fill. All the more reason for the government to nominate a candidate who will have the respect of all sides of the House.


Young Labour Find Hamilton Roots

Posted by on January 21st, 2013

Yesterday Young Labour was in Hamilton West for the second leg of their Clarion Tour.

The Clarion tour is named after the famed Clarion Cycling Club, which consisted of a group of dedicated British political activists who rode around the English countryside in the 1890s talking about their vision for a better and fairer society.

Young Labour are following this tradition: travelling around New Zealand living out Labour values.

In Hamilton Young Labour and I went to the Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park. We got out there and did what we call the “Pukeko stomp” where we release the newly planted native plants from the faster growing grass and weeds. It is an essential park of the community vision to provide both a home for Tui and a great location of community education and recreation.

Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park is the first step in the much needed restoration of native bush in the Waikato. From the 1820s European settlers began arriving in the area paving the way for the famous land clearances of the 1860s. It was clearing and draining of the land that gave the region much of the open pasture land we are renowned for today.

But it also destroyed all but 1% of the wetland once widespread in the region and meant native New Zealand birds were all but banished from Hamilton.

As with any story what struck Young Labour and I was how great community initiatives like Waiwhakareke are determined by abstract decisions about priorities. The Hamilton City Council lost millions of ratepayer’s money when it made the ill-fated decision 48 to bring the V8s to Hamilton. I fear it will be great initiatives like Waiwhakareke that may bear the brunt of Council attempts to recover that money. Pensioner housing units have already been sold off in a short-sighted attempt to reduce the city’s debt.

You can check out the other great community projects Young Labour are undertaking from West Auckland to Christchurch at clariontour.co.nz.


It’s a wrap

Posted by on January 19th, 2013

We made it to the end. 77 km. Wowed by the Waitaks. The Hillary Trail is the equal of almost any tramp I can think of.  The bush, the beaches, and the to-die-for coastal views, including today’s final cliff top walk from Bethells to Muriwai.

We have looked at a lot of kauri trees. Some magnificent. Some beautiful. Too many diseased and dying.

We have seen the future for the northern bush if we don’t get to grips with kauri dieback and it ain’t pretty.

For me the heroes of the last week have been the scientists who have walked with us, explaining their work and what is known and not known.

I share their view that if we don’t get a better understanding of the disease we don’t stand a chance of stopping it.

But I’m a politician. I see political will as the scarce commodity here. Unless this Government commits funding to continue the work of the kauri dieback programme, then the kauri doesn’t stand a chance.

To get them to that point we have to make them understand that while it is not a threat to pine trees nor kiwifruit, phytophthora taxon agathis is killing the kauri and although it might be hard to put a dollar value on that, it is nevertheless something New Zealanders care deeply about.

More to come on this. I will continue to add my voice to those scientists, environmentalists, iwi, and other concerned Kiwis who won’t let this issue go.

In the meantime I want to thank all those who have walked with us, supported, reported, and helped turn a tramp into a campaign: Fred and Marlene Holloway, Ngarimu Blair, Ross Duder, Chris McBride, Viv van der Wal, Lika, Joseph, Jasper, Jack and Jake, Ian Horner, Ellena Hough, Stacey Hill, Nick Waipara, Simon Randall, Bruce Burns, Sarah Wyse, Monique Wheat, Marnie and Alison at Whatipu Lodge, Lindy Harvey, Cheryl Krull, Cr Sandra Coney, Neville Winter and Debi Jacka from Piha Surf Club, Sir Bob Harvey, John Edgar, Kubi Witten-Hannah, Ted Scott, Karekare Surf Club, Stephen Bell and all the western Rangers, Waitangi Woods, Grant Hewison, Tracy Dalton, Alistair Hall, Jim Wheeler, Moana Maniapoto and Toby Mills, Barb Erin and Ian from Muriwai, John Chapman, my assistant Mels Barton who was the first person to tell me about kauri dieback, my son Harry, niece Manu and her friend Sarah who walked with me, and my wife Jo for doing logistics and generally being wonderful.

 


The future…if we don’t act

Posted by on January 18th, 2013

Day 4 of the Hillary Trail and we walk up the Maungaroa Ridge which sits above Piha. I’m with Dr Nick Waipara who is Auckland Council’s chief scientist on biosecurity matters. Nick is one of the key figures in the fight against kauri dieback and has brought me here to show  me the site where he and others first identified the disease.

The well being I feel from a great lunch at the surf club and a classic white water swim at Piha drains away as we walk through this stand of dead and dying trees. It is a kauri graveyard. The pathogen has cut a swathe along the ridge, infecting and killing 100 year old rickers and 10 year old saplings.

The forest floor is cluttered with fallen diseased trunks. Ghost trees silhouette against the sky.

We are looking at the future.

Unless we can find a way of stopping the disease in its tracks this is what the kauri forests will all come to look like.


Dr Nick Waipara tell us why the Maungaroa Ridge site is so important.

My take on how I felt on top of Maugaroa Ridge.

Day 4 – Set off from Karekare with amazing cliff top views as we head to Piha. The Piha Surf Club welcomed us with a slap up lunch (thanks Neville) which we shared with journalist James Ireland, Auckland Councillor Sandra Coney who is a great fighter for the Waitakeres, and Cheryl Krull from Auckland Uni whose PhD included work on how pigs are spreading dieback in the ranges. After the side trip to Maungaroa, we then walked through a stunning nikau forest and up to the Anawhata Craw campground.

Day 5 – Joined by Waitangi Woods the lead iwi rep on the kauri dieback programme, Stacey Hill who does comms and public engagement for the programme, my mate Tracy Dalton, my assistant Mels Barton, my niece Manu and her friend Sarah, and Alistair Hall the Editor of Wilderness magazine. An easy gentle walk across undulating country, regenerating forest with quite a few young and mostly healthy kauri, although also some dead and diseased along the ridge. Highlight was a swim in the waterfall and pools near Lake Wainamu. Destination Te Henga, Bethells Beach. Tomorrow the final leg through to Muriwai.


Scrub, spray and walk away

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

scrub, spray and walk away

Monique Wheat & Simon Randall spraying trigene disinfectant. Photo: Harry Twyford

Head of Biosecurity at Auckland Council Jack Craw is one of the key figures in the hardy band of scientists, rangers and council workers leading the fight against kauri dieback. He describes kauri dieback as the HIV/AIDS of the tree world.

It might sound odd at first to compare AIDS to a disease that is killing trees but it is not a bad analogy. First, there is no known cure. Second, the best way to stop the spread of the disease is to change our behaviours that act as the disease vector.

The lethal spores of PTA (phytophthora taxon agathis) are spread in the soil. We humans, carrying infected soil on our tramping boots, are the main vector.

So one of the main approaches of the disease management work has been to get walkers to scrub the soles of their boots, and spray them with a disinfectant called trigene, at special stations set up throughout the affected areas.

Alarmingly it has been an uphill battle to get people to  follow the signs and scrub and spray. Video cameras at the stations revealed only 25% of trampers actually doing the scrub and spray routine.

Short of closing the forests, getting people to scrub and spray is the best immediate hope for saving kauri.

Day 3 – Today my son Harry and I walked with Monique Wheat, a biologist working for the kauri dieback programme and researching where in the wood PTA affects the kauri. This is important because we need to understand the risk of spreading the disease from the timber of felled infected trees.

Today we walked from Whatipu over to Pararaha Valley, stopped for a swim in the Pararaha stream, and then walked over Zion Hill to Karekare where members of the surf club met us with tea and scones. Tomorrow we walk from Karekare to Anawhata.

Pararaha

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5 cool facts about kauri

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

Hillary Trail day 2

Cool facts on kauri from Bruce Burns and Sarah Wyse on day 2, accompanied by Harry Twyford and Simon Randall. Photo by Mels Barton

1. All plants need nitrogen but kauri can thrive on less than almost any other. They have an amazing ability to do well in poor soil. That is not to say they like infertile soil. In fact there is a myth that kauri are slow growers. Planted in rich soil in good conditions kauri can grow very fast.

2. Kauri forest accumulates biomass faster than most forests anywhere in the world. It grows more wood – bigger trees and more of them.

3. The kauri ecosystem is the most diverse forest type in New Zealand. Kauri forest includes around 70 plant species in a 400 sq m plot. Compare that with South Island mountain beech which has only 2-3 species. This has implications for kauri dieback because if we lose the kauri then the bush will become a lot more homogenous and less interesting.

4. The kauri has powerful anti-competitive strategies that allow it to dominate  other species. Kauri leaves and bark fall to the ground producing a litter that is acidic, slow to break down, and low in nutrients, making it hard for other species to compete in the same space.

5. The kauri has evolved a continuous self-pruning mechanism. The lower branches continually drop off leaving the tree with a smooth trunk and timber without knots. This is what made kauri so prized by the British navy for masts in the early 1800s. Missionary Samuel Marsden organised for ships that had transported convicts to Australia to call by New Zealand to pick up masts to take back to Britain.

6. Northern Maori used to chew kauri gum as an aphrodisiac, a natural Kiwi viagra. (I got this from a good source; unverified but in my view worth including).

Day 2 on the trail – Several hours walking from Huia to Mt Donald McLean with Bruce Burns who is senior lecturer in plant ecology at Auckland University, and PhD candidate Sarah Wyse who is doing her thesis on kauri ecosystems. It was a rare privilege to walk in the bush with people who know so much about it.  Then we walked the Omanawanui Trail down to Whatipu – a three hour gutbuster with stunning views across the Manukau heads and out to the bar. Tomorrow we walk from Whatipu to Karekare.

view to Whatipu

Still a way to go to Whatipu from the Puriri Ridge Track. Photo: Mels Barton

Manukau Heads

Manukau Heads from the Omanawanui Track. Photo: Mels Barton


Final 5 Interpreters Make Desperate Plea

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

Last night several MPs received a letter from a group claiming to be the last five Afghan interpreters who worked with the NZDF and wish to leave Afghanistan but have not been offered any package by the Government.

If there are indeed only five more families that wish to be relocated the Government should act swiftly to grant them asylum. There is no logical justification for denying these former interpreters when all others have had a satisfactory outcome. Their situation is no different to the others.

Here’s what they had to say:

To: Honorable NZ Prime minister, Cabinet and Parliament Members
From: Five former NZDF Interpreters

Warm Greetings!

First of all, we would like to thank on our behalf the Government of the Right Honorable John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, for the resettlement offer to the interpreters (our brothers and countrymen). The decision will surely save many lives as all interpreters fear retribution from the Taliban.

Secondly, please kindly consider this letter as an application for the extension of the asylum offer to the five former NZDF interpreters who served the New Zealand Defense Force alongside the Kiwi soldiers in Bamyan Province for several years in the early days of their deployments in Afghanistan, as interpreters/translators and cultural advisers. During our assignments with NZDF soldiers, we accompanied them on numerous patrols all over the province and even outside of the province, as well as on countless meetings with key government officials, warlords/Taliban, Mullahs, village elders and other locals. As most of these meetings were held in public or in contentious areas of the province, it has exposed us as a person working for the coalition forces. We have also appeared in the Media as allies of NZDF. By the end of our time with NZDF, we were very well-known amongst the Taliban, warlords, locals and security forces for having a strong working background with NZPRT. This fame has already put our lives in danger and might end our and our families’ lives once the ISAF/NATO forces leave Afghanistan and the insurgents/ Taliban start re-gaining power.

It was our hope that peace would prevail in Afghanistan, but unfortunately security across the country has deteriorated. The insurgents are on the offensive across most parts of the country gaining control and eliminating those of us who had connections with coalition forces especially interpreters. We have become prisoners of our country and are unable to make a living freely out of fear of the murderous Taliban. As many of us went into hiding due to direct and indirect threats received from Taliban, insurgents, local warlords and corrupt government authorities threatening to kill either us or our family members. These threats were the reason for most of the NZPRT interpreters to quit their jobs or to flee to another country in order to find a safe shelter to save their lives. We, five former interpreters were/are unable to make our way to a safer place and have been seeking assistance from NZ government to resettle us and our families in New Zealand.

Based on the latest announcement from NZ Government, the initial resettlement offer (released on October 2012) was extended to six former NZDF interpreters, but only two out of six are currently living in Afghanistan and have accepted to resettle in New Zealand, the rest (four ex- interpreters) have already resettled in abroad.

Thus, we five former interpreters who are excluded from the resettlement package, humbly requesting NZ Government to consider our cases and include us in the current resettlement offer. We, five former interpreters have full records of our services with NZDF/PRT in Bamyan and have resigned our assignments prior to December 2010.

It is worth mentioning that we are thankful from Immigration Minister, Nathan Guy who stated that we can request the grant of residence under section 72 of the Immigration Act 2009, if we apply through United Nations our cases will be considered sympathetically. We would have applied through UNHCR if, it was even a bit possible for us. According to the UNHCR asylum policies one has to move to another country as a refugee to apply for the third country. If we do so, then our families will starve to death, as most of us are the sole worker at home.

As we all know, once the coalition forces leave, the security will further deteriorate.

As soon as the insurgents regain power or get strong enough would start hunting us down. We are sure they would not let us go just because we are former interpreters and no longer work with coalition forces. We will be dealt equally with current ones.

We are extremely proud of our achievements and affiliation with the New Zealand Defense Force. We hold the women and men of the NZDF in high regard for their bravery, hard work and dedication to the people of Afghanistan.

Your kind consideration for a safe and prosperous future in New Zealand is most timely for us, our families as we live in fear in Afghanistan for what the future holds. Therefore, we are humbly requesting the Government of New Zealand to extend the current asylum offer to us (the only five remained interpreters) as well, as we have been loyal and dedicated employees of NZPRT over the past years.

We are looking forward to hearing a positive response from Honorable New Zealand Government authorities in this regard.

Sincerely,
Former Interpreters of NZPRT

If there is any good reason these or any other interpreters are being denied, the Government should make that clear. If not, their continued discrimination is unjustified.

 


What we don’t know

Posted by on January 14th, 2013

 

Phil Twyford Hillary Trail day 1

Phil Twyford, Simon Randall and Ngarimu Blair setting off on the Hillary Trail

Walking the first leg of the Hillary Trail today between Arataki Visitor Centre and Huia, I was struck by how little we know about Phytophthera taxon agathis, the pathogen that is killing kauri trees.

I can recite what we don’t know: we don’t know where it came from, we don’t know when it arrived, we don’t know exactly how it kills trees and we don’t know how to fight it.

A group of half a dozen scientists have been working on the disease for the past few years with funding support from government. A handful of scientists trying to deal with a largely unknown organism that is wiping out one of New Zealand’s most iconic species.

Most of the paltry $6 million spent over the last five years went on putting up signs and encouraging trampers to scrub the bottom of their boots, which is important to do, but if this was a biosecurity threat to our kiwifruit or pine plantations (PSA or painted apple moth) then you can bet ten times that amount would have been invested in the science.

Only science has any chance of saving the kauri.

It is important that we try to understand the disease, and what we can do about it. Plant pathologists like Ian Horner and Ellena Hough were out today in the bush above Huia monitoring whether kauri infected with PTA respond to having phosphite injected into their trunks.

Horner and Hough have day jobs with Plant and Food trying to save the kiwifruit industry from PSA. Saving kauri is a sideline for them, and today they are testing whether the phosphite they injected into 50-100 year old sick kauri a year ago has had any positive effect. It is an approach that works well with avocado trees infected with a similar pathogen to the one that is plaguing kauri.

Early results are inconclusive, but Horner concedes that even in the best case scenario, injecting phosphite is not a fix. Any beneficial effect would be temporary, only as long as the phosphite remained in the tree’s system. It might help save an iconic tree, or one treasured by a private landowner, but it is not going to save our forests.

The research must go on. The Government’s lack of commitment to extending the funding for the kauri dieback work beyond mid-2014 puts a question mark over this vital work. It is only a few million dollars a year. The survival of kauri as a species is at stake.

It has been a great start to the Hillary Trail. We had a send off from friends, park rangers and residents of the Waitakeres, with a karakia by kaumatua Fred Holloway. Thanks to my co-walkers Ngarimu Blair of Ngati Whatua, Ross Duder of Friends of Regional Parks and Simon Randall local body politician who did his Masters on Phytophtheras in the Waitakere Ranges.

Tomorrow we walk to Whatipu.

Hillary Trail send off

Send-off at Arataki

Ian Horner

Scientist Ian Horner injecting phosphite into kauri at Huia


Does Tane Mahuta need to keel over and die?

Posted by on January 14th, 2013

Over the next six days I am walking the Hillary Trail, 70 km through Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. I have wanted to do it for a long time but it is more than just a summer tramp. I am doing it now to raise awareness of the disease that is killing one of our most cherished species, the kauri.

The killer is PTA phytophthora taxon agathis a.k.a. kauri dieback.  Eleven percent of the kauri in the Waitakeres are dead or dying because of it, although the number is probably much higher because the disease has a long incubation period with no symptoms. The disease is spreading and the trees in the Waipoua and Trounson parks in Northland are so badly infected the proposal for a kauri national park in the north has been scuppered.

Scientists I have spoken to say that unless progress is made managing or stopping the disease then it is not too much of a stretch to say the species could be extinct within decades.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that there is a big question mark over continued funding for this work.

The scientific research, and the public awareness programme which encourages walkers to scrub and spray their boots at stations on the tracks, has cost about $6 million over the last five years. That funding runs out mid-2014, and the Ministry of Primary Industries who funded most of it, now say they will not take another budget bid to Cabinet. (See TV3′s report here.)

So do they want Councils to fund it? Should we run a cake stall? I am staggered the Government would spend $85 million fighting painted apple moth because it was a threat to pine trees but can’t find a few million bucks to save the kauri.

Does Tane Mahuta need to keel over and die before they take this disease seriously?

As I walk the Hillary Trail over the next few days with scientists and researchers and park rangers who are working on this crisis, I expect it will be bitter sweet. The Hillary Trail is a spectacular walk but instead of stopping to admire the stunning kauri that are a feature of the Waitakeres, we are likely to be stopping to examine dead and dying kauri, and checking the extent of the disease’s spread.

I will be posting updates here and on facebook and twitter, and doing everything I can to highlight the need for the Government to commit the funding needed to continue the scientific research and management of the disease.

Our generation doesn’t want the kauri to die out on our watch, does it?


Labour’s Summer School: the place to be

Posted by on January 13th, 2013

2013 is the year Labour will start to flesh out our policy process. In two weeks Labour members will get another chance to have in depth conversations about policy, social democracy and ideology.

Labour members from around New Zealand will descend on Wainuiomata in my electorate in to be part of Labour’s largest Summer School ever.

Summer School is Labour’s pre-eminent forum for Labour members of all ages to discuss, debate, and develop ideas on social democracy and how the Labour Party can realise and define its vision. Summer School has been an annual feature in January since 2003 and is organised by Young Labour. It offers Labour members a vital opportunity to think beyond day-to-day politics and to push the boundaries of what we can achieve.

This year is the largest Summer School ever and will culminate in David Shearer delivering a speech on Labour’s priorities in 2013.

The 2013 Summer School theme “Labour’s Unique Narrative for the Future” will encourage us to consider what makes (or should make) Labour unique among the political parties in Aotearoa and what values and history reinforce our uniqueness as the progressive party of change.

We will discuss a slew of interesting sessions on a range of policy, organisational and ideological issues with great speakers such as Rod Oram, Brian Easton, Gavin Ellis, Deborah Russell and Amanda Brydon.

Have a look at the Summer School flyer and programme. It is your chance to have an impact on Labour’s policy process and discuss the big issues: economic challenges of the future, the role of neoliberalism in Aotearoa, human rights and solutions to inequality.

If you would like to attend Labour Summer School you can click here to find out more information and register.

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Consultants for core administrative tasks?

Posted by on January 10th, 2013

Back in 2008 the then National opposition made two ‘key’ pledges when it came to public services. The first was to ‘cap but not cut’ the number of public servants, and the second was to ‘move resources from the back office to the frontline’. They didn’t keep either promise, but more importantly, evidence is increasingly emerging that their approach to public service provision is costing the taxpayer more, not less.

National’s cap on public service numbers has led to a blowout in consultancy costs, as government agencies continue to deal with the same, or in many cases greater, workloads with fewer people on board to do the work.

Take the Ministry of Education for example. This week I released data that shows they’ve been engaging expensive consultants to undertake core administrative tasks like processing official information requests, drafting ministerial documents, and writing business cases. I’ve got no problem with departments bring in outside expertise when a particular set of skills are required, but this is bread and butter stuff any department the size of the Ministry of Education should be able to deal with.

Between 2008 and 2011 ten of the biggest government departments spent a whopping $910 million on consultants and contractors between them. Those same agencies spent $114 million making people redundant during the same period. Increasingly anecdotal evidence is emerging of former employees being engaged as consultants to do the work they used to do for a lot less when they were employees.

National’s consultancy culture isn’t saving us money, it’s costing us more. It’s also leading to an erosion of the core capability of the public service, and some of the haphazard decisions ministers are making, often based on weak advice, reflect that.

Our democratic system relies on there being a quality public service with the expertise and capability to deliver on the priorities of the government of the day, whomever that may be. That includes the capability to deliver advice the government of the day might not like. Under National, that capability is being seriously eroded.


Hands-off and Half-baked

Posted by on January 4th, 2013

NICOLE MATHEWSON reports in The Press (4 January 2013):

A proposal to shift to a 10-year census could seriously affect Christchurch’s recovery, critics say.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson said in July 2011 the Government was considering holding the census once every decade.

Currently conducted every five years, the census helps determine electoral boundaries and funding for services like district health boards, schools and the police.

I agree with our Earthquake Recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/8141560/Missing-Census-data-may-hurt-city

“Christchurch was already living with the consequences of a delayed census …I’d really want to see a good case put up for a delay. We’ve had the schools shake-up landed on the city without the benefit of knowledge about where the settlement patterns are going to fall and that’s wrong.”

Green’s Eugenie Sage cited as an example that one of the reasons for not closing Belfast’s Ouruhia School is potential roll growth from the Prestons and Belfast subdivisions. “Five-yearly census information will help confirm that.”

Labour statistics spokesman Raymond Huo said a 10-yearly census would reduce costs to Statistics New Zealand, but it was “not that straightforward”.

“I think Williamson’s idea is half-baked at best because it’s not that simple,” he said.

“The key drivers are cost constraints and the demand for more frequent detailed and accurate statistics. Particularly for the Christchurch area, we need more frequent and accurate data.”

Indeed. There are at least three issues as Statistics NZ noted:

  • Continuing cost increases (due to population growth and inflation);
  • Not keeping pace with potential cost savings arising from technological changes;
  • Increasing availability of administrative date.

NZ could learn a lot from international experience. Australia has developed its eCensus system and one of the goals for its 2016 census is to further increase internet uptake. At its 2011 census 34% of households completed forms online, already.

Canada is researching methodology options (based on existing administrative registers plus a full-enumeration field census with yearly updates).

France’s approach is unique: a full-enumeration of population and dwelling every five years plus 8% sample conducted every year in large municipalities. Date are released annually as moving averages.

US also changed census model. In 2010, its 10-yearly long-form census was replaced by ACS – a large annual survey of 3 million households.

Statistics NZ in its Transforming the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings: Issues, options, and strategy gave a detailed analysis of each option/approach.

Statistics Minister Maurice Williamson could simply read it and talk to his officials. His approach has so far been hands-off and his idea, half-baked.


New Year Hangover brought to you by the letters N.A.T….

Posted by on January 1st, 2013

If you thought that your hangover was starting to fade, National has made New Year’s Day a cracker for short sighted, unfair and just plain dumb policies to come into force.

- Prescription Charges Up. Today is the day prescriptions rise from $3 to $5. Might not seem much from the comfort of Tony Ryall’s viewpoint, but a trip to a pharmacy in any low income area will tell you a different story. Many people struggle to pay for their medicine now, let alone with the price increase. Maryan Street has covered it really well here. Unfair, and just plain wrong.

- Student Allowances Abolished for Postgrads. I have covered this a few times on Red Alert, but from today no postgraduate student will be eligible for allowances. Shortsighted, and likely to drive many bright hopes overseas. And so unfair to those in the middle of programmes who had no warning of this from National. Like my constituent who simply can’t afford to complete her Clinical Psychology qualification because even using a student loan she is $75 a week down in “income” and can’t afford to look after her daughter on that. Shame.

- No more Kyoto. From today the government has abandoned our commitment to the Kyoto Protocol in favour of our own “voluntary” commitments. We used to be respected in the world for our work on climate change, but National has systematically undermined that through changes to ETS and now this. Our reputation with small island states will take a major hit. We are now seen as not only not a leader, but not even doing our fair share.

In fairness today also marks another increase in tax on tobacco. Labour supports this, as the international evidence shows price is one of the most successful ways of stopping people smoking. But it has to go along with access to other treatments to help people kick their addiction.

So, its Happy New Year from National. But actually I am feeling really positive today. 2013 will be the year we see New Zealanders come together to find a fairer, more hopeful and compassionate future for our country. That is Labour’s way and that is our goal.


Happy New Year and here’s to a great 2013

Posted by on January 1st, 2013

It’s not really New Year here in San Franciso where I am visiting my exile kids. That’s tomorrow, but I’ve been seeing your texts, tweets and FB messages and wanted to say
Happy New Year to everyone! And may 2013 be an excellent year for you and yours.

As the fiscal cliff looms in the States with its consequences which go far beyond tax increases, I’m thinking that even with all our faults and problems in little old enzed, at least we don’t have the madness of the US system.

But that doesnt mean that we don’t have a list of a thousand things that need to be better in 2013. I do, but for now I’m grateful to have some time with my family, even f it is in another country.

So see if you can stick to your resolutions, have fun with friends and whanau and a very Happy New Year to everyone.

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